The Magic of Reality (FT review)
By NEVILLE HAWCOCK - FT.COM
Added: Fri, 30 Sep 2011 18:20:59 UTC
“Give me the child,” the Jesuit maxim is supposed to have run, “and I will give you the man”. But not if Richard Dawkins gets there first. The arch-atheist’s new book, The Magic of Reality, is designed to inoculate tender minds once and for all against the supernatural and its apologists.
Actually, not just tender minds. While it’s aimed at children of 10 and up, the text is persuasive whatever one’s age. After all, Dawkins is a populariser as well as a proselytiser; his argument, beautifully complemented here by Dave McKean’s copious illustrations, has wonderful clarity.
He starts by defining his terms. “Reality” is everything that can be apprehended directly by our five senses or indirectly by scientific instruments and scientific models. (Emotions, which might seem to be excluded by this, are part of reality too, depending for their existence “on brains ... or something equivalent to brains”.) “Magic” falls into three categories: supernatural magic, the stuff of fairy tales and myths (very bad, handle with care); stage magic, à la Penn and Teller (kind of fun, mostly); and poetic magic, when nature moves us (thumbs up, go for it). Dawkins’ purpose is to demonstrate that the real world, understood scientifically, is imbued with magic in this last sense. “Next to the true beauty and magic of the real world,” he writes, “supernatural spells and stage tricks seem cheap and tawdry by comparison.”
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